Betty Comden and Adolph Green were lyricists, librettists, screenwriters and performers. This collection consists of scripts, production files, office files, financial records, awards, photographs and programs from 1933 to 2003.
Biographical/historical: Adolph Green was born in the Bronx, New York on December 2, 1915. After a brief stint as a runner on Wall Street, Green began his theatrical career as an actor and soon found himself writing and performing satirical sketches with the nightclub act, The Revuers. Green’s fellow Revuers included Judy Holiday and Betty Comden, who became his lifelong writing partner. Betty Comden was born Elizabeth Cohen on May 3, 1919 in Brooklyn, NY. Comden attended New York University, where she studied drama, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree from the School of Education in 1938. The Revuers played at the Village Vanguard and the Rainbow Room in the late 1930s and made regular appearances on radio and one brief appearance in the Fox film, Greenwich Village (1944). The team of Comden and Green scored a hit with their Broadway debut, On The Town (1944), for which they provided the book and lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s score as well as appearing in the original Broadway cast.
After their second show, Billion Dollar Baby (1945), written with composer Morton Gould, Comden and Green signed with Metro-Goldwin-Mayer and began working for the Arthur Freed Unit. Their first project was a screenplay and additional lyrics for Good News (1947). They went on to write original screenplays for several classic movie musicals, including Singin’ In The Rain (1952), The Bandwagon (1953), It’s Always Fair Weather (1955) and the final film of the legendary partnership between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, The Barkleys of Broadway (1949). They also adapted the screenplay and provided lyrics to new songs for their own On The Town (1949).
In the early 1950s Comden and Green resumed their Broadway career with the revue Two On The Aisle (1951), the first of many collaborations with their most frequent composer, Jule Styne. Their next project, Wonderful Town (1953), reunited them with Leonard Bernstein and won the Tony Award as Best Musical. Their next seven Broadway musicals were collaborations with Styne, including additional songs for Peter Pan (1954), Say, Darling (1958), Do-Re-Mi (1960), Subways Are For Sleeping (1961), Fade Out-Fade In (1964) and Best Musical Tony Award winner, Hallelujah, Baby! (1968). The most successful show from Comden and Green’s collaboration with Jule Styne was Bells Are Ringing (1956), which was written as a vehicle for Comden and Green’s old friend, Judy Holliday, now an Academy Award winning actress.
During this period of high productivity on Broadway, Comden and Green also continued work on various film projects, adapting Bells Are Ringing for the screen in 1960. They also did the 1958 screen adaptation of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s play Auntie Mame, which starred Wonderful Town’s Rosalind Russell. Though their last produced film was the comedy with songs, What A Way To Go! (1964), they continued to work on screenplays for the rest of their careers. Comden and Green also continued their performing careers in 1959, with the first version of their successful revue, A Party With Betty Comden and Adolph Green, which they performed several times on Broadway and around the country over the following thirty years.
In 1970 Comden and Green provided the book for Charles Strouse and Lee Adams’ score for Applause, a musical version of the classic film, All About Eve, (1950) which won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Another Comden and Green show won the Tony later in the decade: On The Twentieth Century in 1978, which also won them and their composer, Cy Coleman, the Tony for Best Score. Comden and Green’s next project was a departure from the witty, urbane style that had characterized their previous work when they tackled nineteenth century feminism in a collaboration with composer Larry Grossman and director Harold Prince. A Doll’s Life (1982) investigates what might have happened to Nora from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House after she slams the door and leaves her family. This ambitious project was unsuccessful, but demonstrated Comden and Green’s versatility. Their last original musical, however, was a triumph, both artistically and financially. The Will Rogers Follies (1991), another collaboration with Cy Coleman, ran 981 performances and brought Comden, Green and Coleman another Best Score Tony Award.
Throughout their career as writers, Comden and Green continued to work as performers in such films as My Favorite Year (1982), I Want to Go Home (1989) and Garbo Talks (1984). They also appeared in countless tributes and concerts including Follies in Concert, performed at Avery Fisher Hall in 1985 and Green appeared as Dr. Pangloss in the London Symphony Orchestra’s Candide, conducted by Leonard Bernstein in 1989.
Betty Comden was married to artist Steven Kyle from 1942, until his death in 1979. They had two children, Alan Kyle and Suzanne Kyle. Adolph Green’s first marriage in 1941, to actress/painter Elizabeth Reitell ended in divorce, as did his second marriage to actress Allyn Ann McLerie from 1945-1953. In 1960 he married actress Phyllis Newman, with whom he had two children, Amanda Green and Adam Green, and to whom he remained married until his death on October 23, 2002.
Content: This collection contains scripts, production files, office files, financial records, awards, photographs and programs from as early as 1933 and as late as 2003. The strengths of this collection are several scripts for unproduced or incomplete works by Comden and Green as well as other writers, and the multiple drafts of certain shows, reflecting the process of revising a script and extensive business correspondence and office records. Of special interest are various drafts and handwritten sheet music for songs from collaboration with Leonard Bernstein on a musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, which was never finished, scripts for episodes of a proposed television adaptation of Bells Are Ringing, the transcript of an oral history interview with Fanny Brice, conducted in preparation for an autobiography which was never written, called Don’t Pick Up Your Money Till You’ve Finished Singing, and various parody lyrics written for political campaigns and tributes. This is a collection of professional materials and its scope does not extend to personal materials, which are only minimally represented here.
Content: The Comden and Green papers were reprocessed in 2005